House Bill 951 needs overhaul to enable clean energy future for North Carolina

Last week, North Carolina House representatives released House Bill 951 after weeks of negotiations with a small set of stakeholders. We appreciate the efforts of the bill negotiators to address the challenges that North Carolina faces in its energy transition, and the bill’s elements that target retiring North Carolina’s coal plants and expanding solar power are key to achieving the clean, healthy, and affordable energy system envisioned in Governor Cooper’s Clean Energy Plan. However, the bill as currently drafted misses the mark. It would lock ratepayers into risky new gas plants and further tilt the playing field to the advantage of utilities over families in front of the state’s energy regulators, the North Carolina Utilities Commission. In order to make sure this bill serves NC families instead of utility shareholders, the following changes, at a minimum, must be made:

  • Invite the public to the table. This bill would have far reaching impacts on all North Carolina communities, families and businesses. It is critical that the public and all relevant stakeholders have a chance to help shape this policy. A broad, public stakeholder process with committee hearings, stakeholder engagement and a robust debate can allow for more perspectives and create space for historically under-represented voices.
  • Avoid mandating risky new gas. As written, the bill would allow utilities to bypass the Cooper administration and build new gas plants without appropriate oversight. As North Carolina moves away from coal, we must ensure we do not switch from one economic dead end and public health disaster in coal to another in gas.
  • Ensure performance-based ratemaking works for ratepayers. The utility business model has to change to better serve families and businesses in North Carolina. The current draft would put power in utility hands by allowing only utilities to make performance-based ratemaking proposals and eliminating regulators’ ability to revise them. Good performance-based ratemaking must allow regulators and stakeholders to propose and modify performance goals and metrics.
  • Keep every tool for exiting coal in the toolkit. Legislation should provide additional tools to transition away from coal, not put a cap on some of the most effective methods, such as using low-cost bonds to pay off remaining balances, known as securitization.
  • Expand access to renewable energy, especially for energy-burdened families. An equitable clean energy bill must include provisions that empower low-income, energy-burdened and disadvantaged households to participate in and benefit from the clean energy economy.

Closing down dirty, expensive coal plants and expanding cost-effective solar power is the right thing to do for North Carolina’s families. Requiring new gas-fired power plants and weakening regulators’ ability to do their job won’t help Duke Energy serve the public good or deliver clean and affordable power. Moving North Carolina’s energy economy forward should mean bringing all voices, including low-income ratepayers and frontline communities, to the table and crafting a vision that works for everyone.

Despite H951’s encouraging provisions, it does not meet the needs of North Carolinians. Now is the time for community members, advocates, industry and legislators to work together to improve this bill and build a brighter clean energy future for North Carolina.

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